How to Fix Publisher Sites

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 In the book The Millionaire Next Door, author Thomas Stanley details how the thrifty wife of a millionaire reacted when her husband presented her with $8 million worth of stock. 

“She said, ‘I appreciate this, I really do.’ Then she smiled, never changing her position at the kitchen table, where she continued to cut out 25-cent and 50-cent-off coupons from the week’s supply of newspapers,” he wrote.

Alas, there’s a reason why some people are millionaires and most are not: patience. A recent survey we ran reveals that most consumers don’t have the level of grit required to wade through coupons; even a little bit of resistance will thwart the affiliate marketing process in many cases. To win such consumers over, publisher sites and retailers need to work together to create a cohesive customer journey.

Our survey found that friction within this journey interrupted transition points, ultimately increasing distrust on the part of some participants. 

Key findings: The draw of affiliate marketing

With little existing research about how customers shop coupon and loyalty publisher sites, our study attempted to shed some light on consumers’ pain points.

The study was divided between couponers and non-couponers, who were probed with 43 questions about their affiliate shopping habits. One data point that emerged was that 43% of non-couponers used to use coupons and/or shop on loyalty sites, but gave up.

Not surprisingly, the primary triggers for using publisher sites were to “save money” and for “entertainment.” 43% said they primarily visited such sites during an online checkout. Some 37% of respondents said they use coupon/loyalty sites as a starting place for ideas and inspiration.The most popular promotion codes were “percent off the whole site” (32%) versus “free shipping” (16%) and “percentage off an item” (15%.)

Pain points

The study revealed that shoppers had little patience for even the slightest setbacks that could derail their journey to purchase. For instance, shoppers complained if a publisher site linked to the home page of a retailer site rather than the relevant category that they had already chosen. Another pain point was when deals disappeared on retailer sites and promo codes failed.

Cluttered site designs also frustrated shoppers, especially when they couldn’t find the advertised deal on a retailer’s site. Consumers also found that inconsistent filters made it hard to shop for particular deals. The situation was even worse on mobile, where menus were often hard to navigate.


Consumers have a rational distrust of publisher sites since they often send them on journeys that lead to nowhere and take up their valuable time. If you’ve ever entered your credit card information on site and then missed a field, got an error message and then had to enter that info again, you can feel their pain.

Thankfully, the fixes aren’t too difficult or arduous. Here are a few recommendations for publishers:

• Link to the product. Require retailers to provide direct links to the SKU or product category that the consumer is trying to purchase instead of sending them to the retailer’s home page.

• Clean up promotions. Too often, publisher sites run several promos that are in conflict with one another. It’s not unusual to see “10% off site-wide” and “15% off site-wide” on the same site, for instance. It’s also a good idea to get rid of promos with a low success rate.

• Apply filters across the site. Let shoppers compare deals from different retailers and for distinct items.

• Ensure touch activation is working well. Frozen menus on mobile sites will stop a shopper in their tracks. Make sure touch activation provides a seamless experience.

 Consumers aren’t lazy, however they’ve been burned enough times to have a rational fear of wasting their time. The publisher’s job is to reduce those barriers as much as possible. If the experience is seamless and easy, then the word will get around and more non-couponers will once again return to the fray.

Heather Aeder, VP Analytics and Insights of Pepperjam.

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